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We know Cataclysm is coming. Please play our game in the meanwhile.

Even if the beta for Cataclysm, World of Warcraft‘s upcoming expansion, had not started and if there had not been a great amount of information and video‘s available, then it would have been clear that something was close to happening from all the other MMO news. The WoW population may be deep in the pre-expansion boredom, but many people are still playing. This is the moment to get their interest, before they get too excited about Cataclysm. My mailbox was filled with interesting announcements and offers from other MMO’s this week.

Global Agenda removed its subscription model. Now it is just buy once and play forever. Even the first Expansion, Sand Storm, is free. This is great. There was not enough content in the game for me to subscribe, but it is so much fun in short bursts. I had taken a break from GA, because I was wondering how much I would retain of my time investment when the subscription system went live, but it is definitely on my list to play more now.

The European Warhammer Online servers are transferred from GOA to Mythic, now Bioware-Mythic. The split in publishers between US and Europe has not worked out too well in my opinion, with late patches etc. To celebrate the consolidation, every present and former GOA player will receive two weeks of free gameplay. Warhammer is still the game that I expected most from and was thus disappointed most in. It is also the only game that I gave more than one try to see if things had improved, so I’m quite happy with this free period.

Finally, Age of Conan is offering a free trial of their expansion for 10 days by e-mail. AoC still interests me. It was horrible at launch, but when I got another offer of free game time around Christmas 2009 it seemed that the game had matured quite nicely. That trial was not impressive enough to make me resubscribe, but it did make me watch out for AoC news again. So that’s another offer that I am going to take up.

If this keeps up, I shall end up with too many games to play and that will hopefully help keep the siren’s song of Cataclysm quiet.

Both are Blizzard?

The first phase of Starcraft II Beta is over and I found out that I was spending more time on it than I had realised. I suddenly “gained” about one free hour per day. It also made me realise that I am really looking forward to this game. While searching for more SCII information, I found plenty of news about the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm, as well. I played WoW for years, enjoyed it, got burned out a few times, returned, had fun again, burned out after a while etcetera, etcetera. I had fully expected to get back with Cataclysm when I quit halfway Wrath of the Lich King. Actually, I expected to return earlier.

However, I can barely muster any enthusiasm. MMO-Champion has a big post called “World of Warcraft Cataclysm Press Tour” on the front page and everything about it seems to be about grinding and simplification. I fully realize that MMO’s have always been about getting players to run around as long in the treadmill as possible, but Blizzard does not seem to bother to try to hide it anymore since Wrath. I am also still playing Lord of the Rings Online and while I am feeling the grind of getting a decent Legendary item, I am also sightseeing in Moria. It may not look like I imagined from reading the books, but it is still worthwhile to see how other people imagined it.

This treadmill also lets you visit Balin's tomb.

Compare that to Starcraft II. While Achievements have infected that game as well, its single player campaign is set to continue the epic story of Starcraft and Brood War without the MMO type grind. Of course, the single player experience will be shorter than an MMO, but the quality of the time investment is much higher. Spending time is necessary to get better in multi player, but this is no mindless grinding. People will have to analyze their play styles and adjust their strategies to really get better.

Blizzard once made two rich worlds, Warcraft and Starcraft (and Diablo, of course), one has degenerated into a thing of pure repetition, the other remains an intellectual challenge. Is it really the nature of MMO’s to require less thoughts of the players or is Blizzard taking the easy way out with WoW?

I think the latter.

Collecting emotions

My first collector’s edition was Warcraft III. A friend had gone through some effort to get both of us a copy. The box looked so great compared to a normal game’s packaging and it was just filled with goodies, most I admired once and then stuffed away. I got the World of Warcraft collector’s edition as well, but I failed to get the Burning Crusades’ one; it was sold out quickly, and I did not even bother with the Wrath one. By that time I was viewing collector’s editions as overpriced pieces of merchandise that did not add anything to the game at all. Even in-game items were mostly fun for once or cosmetic (as they should be, because power in-game should be earned, not bought, but that is another discussion).

And I still ordered the Starcraft II CE.

It contains, quoting from the press release:

  • The Art of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, a 176-page book featuring artwork from the game
  • An exclusive 2GB USB flash drive replica of Jim Raynor’s dog tag, which comes preloaded with the original StarCraft and the StarCraft: Brood War® expansion set
  • A behind-the-scenes DVD containing over an hour of developer interviews, cinematics with director’s commentary, and more
  • The official StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty soundtrack CD, containing 14 epic tracks from the game along with exclusive bonus tracks
  • StarCraft comic book issue #0, a prequel to the comic series
  • A World of Warcraft® mini Thor in-game pet that can be applied to all World of Warcraft characters on a single Battle.net account
  • Exclusive Battle.net downloadable content, including special portraits for your Battle.net profile, decals to customize your units in-game, and a visually unique version of the terran Thor unit

The art book is probably the thing I will value most, but having the music on CD is definitely nice as well. I cannot really care for the USB drive, because I already own Starcraft I and Brood War, like (probably) everyone who’s liking SCII enough to buy a collector’s edition. The comic and behind the scenes DVD I will peruse about once. What I really do not like is the WoW pet since it has nothing to do with Starcraft. I quit WoW, I’m happy I quit WoW and no pet is going to get me to play again. Still, if Cataclysm turns out to be awesome, I shall play it followed by a baby Thor…

Again, there’s nothing in there that’s going to make me game more enjoyable, but that’s not point. I want to get the feeling of unpacking it like an early birthday, because finding all those goodies is a nice emotion and I am willing to pay for it.

The dread penalty

February 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Fear the...Pink...Reaper?!

Death penalties are a pretty controversial topic in the MMO community. One extreme demands that dying in-game should permanently delete the character, the other does not want any penalty at all. I have no set opinion, only that the penalty should make sense with regard to the game environment and that playing badly should never be rewarded.

Current flavors

Let’s take a look at some of the penalties currently implemented in different games:

  • Dying in World of Warcraft results in the character’s spirit being removed from the body and moved to a specified spot on the map where a Spirit Healer awaits. All items carried are also damaged. The player can run as a ghost back to his body and resurrect on the spot. The penalty here is lost time and gold for repairs. The player can also choose to resurrect at the Spirit Healer, but he will then suffer from greatly reduced stats for ten minutes and a great durability loss for all items. There is no penalty at all within battlegrounds and arenas because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Characters in Lord of the Rings Online cannot really die, because it would not fit Tolkien’s world were death is permanent (although some spirits can linger in the world). Instead of health characters have morale and if morale gets depleted, the character retreats to a preset spot on the map with damage to items. They also get a penalty to health and damage output for ten minutes, which grows more severe as the character levels up, the fall of great hero is more severe than that of a grunt. Although it is possible to ‘resurrect’ on the spot every two hours (every hour for lower level characters) this gives the same penalties and is not to be recommended if the character retreated within aggro distance of mobs Like in WoW the penalty is time and money for repairs.
  • Champions Online does not have a dead penalty per se, but rather a reward for staying alive. The longer the character stays alive fighting equal or near level mobs, the more ‘hero’ stars he gets. Every star gives a minor increase in damage up to 6%. Every dead results in the loss of a star and being moved to a preset place on the map. The penalty here is time. There is no penalty at all within the Hero Games because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Warhammer moves a dead character to a preset location and induces a penalty on all stats that grows progressively, so every dead increases the chances of dying again as long as the penalty is on (up to 10 min). The penalty is time. There is no penalty at all within scenarios because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Star Trek Online has no substantial dead penalty, a blown up ship respawns in several seconds. Suicide runs are rewarded because enemies often do not fully reset during the respawn period, making it possible to whittle them down bit by bit, death by death.
  • In Pirates of the Burning Seas ships can be lost a limited number of time before being destroyed permanently. All ship outfitting is lost permanently upon being destroyed. The worth of ships varies so the monetary penalty does as well. Even in PvP a loss means the loss of a ship, which fits the realistic setting well.

I have not played Darkfall or EVE, but from what I have read it is possible there to lose items (getting looted by an opponent in Darkfall, getting your ship blown up in EVE), while a character can also be killed. The player has than to get a clone active, which could be considered a save file. So it is possible in these games to lose very little or very much. Other games, like Aion, give an experience debt: the player must gain an extra amount of XP to get to the next level. This is a time penalty.

There is only one real currency in MMO’s and that’s time. Everything the players has gained has come from an investment in time. However, gold and equipment are not gained equally fast by all players, which makes converting such items to time difficult to generalize.

Making sense

Although it seems rather strange that a hero is able to escape a encampment filled with orcs in LOTRO, it is possible to imagine him/her desperately making a break for it. While the near loss of life weighs heavily for a few moments (the debuff period) the hero eventually recovers. It is easier in a World like Warcraft where magic is everywhere. Getting an entire star ship blown up and reappearing a few minutes later makes no sense at all, unless every STO captain has their own personal Q aboard.

It is easier to suspend disbelief in a fantasy environment than in SF, but that does not mean that SF should not try to make sense.

Severity

Games are entertainment first and foremost, but what is a game without challenge? Challenge means that the possiblity of failure. Failure is only real if it is felt. Failure teaches people to better play the game. Without penalties there will be more bad players, it’s as simple as that. People should know what they get into before they start, they should know what they can lose. Just like they agree to the EULA when they start up the game for the first time, they agree to the risks as well. So as long as players are able to know what their risk is, I am fine with any dead penalty that is severe enough to show the player that he made a mistake, e.g. basically nowhere is safe in EVE, while a setback in WoW will not cost more than about twenty minutes maximum (10 minutes Spirit Healer debuff and 10 minutes to do daily quests to get repair gold).

Summarizing

  1. Dead penalties are vital in teaching how to play the game.
  2. While the only quantity that really can be lost, this can be a great deal.
  3. Players should know their risks before starting to play.